USC Book Prize in Literary and Cultural Studies

2017 Citation Recipient

Rebecca Gould

The University of Southern California Book Prize in Literary and Cultural Studies, established in 2009 and sponsored by the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Southern California, is awarded annually for an outstanding monograph published on Russia, Eastern Europe, or Eurasia in the fields of literary and cultural studies in the previous calendar year.

Winner: Rebecca Gould
Title: Writers and Rebels: The Literature of Insurgency in the Caucasus (Yale University Press)

Rebecca Gould’s Writers & Rebels: The Literature of Insurgency is concerned with the timely “literary and aesthetic question of why and how anticolonial violence mesmerizes and mobilizes religious sensibilities.” Writers & Rebels examines the aestheticization of violence in the literatures of the Caucasus from the 19th century to the Soviet period through a focus on the figure of the anticolonial bandit (abrek). Gould believes that the “intensified forms of both aesthetics and politics in the literatures of the Caucasus calls for a new relationship between anthropology and literature.” So the book also sets itself no less ambitious a goal than to forge such novel relations into a whole new methodology: literary anthropology. Gould’s ability to carry out her ambitious program is predicated on deep intellectual and ethical engagement with her material; on time spent doing ethnographic and archival work in the region, including long-term stays in Chechen homes during the war; and on a prodigious linguistic competence that spans Russian, Georgian, Chechen, Arabic, German, and French. Gould reveals the aesthetic and political costs “of the linguistically reduced Caucasus that remains normative in Russian and Eurasian Studies.” In showcasing how “the heteroglossia of Caucasus literatures gives it a special place in the ecology of world literatures,” Gould does tremendous service to our field, opening new vistas that had been left unexplored for much too long. Furthermore, her book will justly echo well beyond our immediate field, far into post-colonial studies and world literature.

Honorable Mention: Christine E. Evans
Title: Between Truth and Time: A History of Soviet Central Television (Yale University Press)

Christine E. Evans’ Between Truth and Time: A History of Soviet Central Television constitutes a major contribution to the study of Soviet culture in the Khrushchev and Brezhnev periods. Its focus on Soviet Central Television builds productively on previous studies of Soviet media, but connects its analysis with recent work on festivals, ritual, and on the ways in which authoritarian regimes seek public participation and legitimacy. It shows how the negotiations between the live and the staged, authority and authenticity that are inherent to the televisual medium were played out in a particular way in the USSR, as part of the interaction between state and public.

Between Truth and Time is a work of deep and rigorous scholarship, analyzing TV in the context of central Moscow archives, interviews, the press, and a wide range of existing scholarship, both theoretical and culturally speci c. Evans’ contribution is all the more telling because it highlights Soviet TV’s innovation and its artistic and ideological vitality, rather than seeing it through the lens of Cold War defeat. This enables Evans’ work to contribute to the ongoing reappraisal of the Brezhnev period, and of Soviet TV as paving the way, paradoxically, for both the transformations of the Perestroika period and the shape of contemporary, post-Soviet Russian television that remains an enormously in uential medium.

Between Truth and Time shows how Soviet central TV “negotiat[ed] authority in a world where political activity outside the playful world of the mass media is significantly constrained” in ways that remain relevant for understanding culture past and present.